Thursday, February 18, 2010

torah lishma

The Midrash at the opening of Parshas Terumah contrasts our receiving of the Torah with an ordinary sale. In a normal sales transaction, the seller gives his property to the buyer and departs. Hashem, the "seller" of Torah, kavyachol was included in the deal and came along with the Torah to us. The same idea is captured in the Zohar's statement that "Oraysa v'Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu" -- the Torah and Hashem are one.

Basing himself on this Midrash, R' Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh haChaim 4:10) explains that it makes no sense to speak of dveykus as a goal of the process of Torah learning or an ingredient necessary for its fulfullment. Dveykus is inherent in learning. Since G-d is one with the Torah, one cannot learn a page of gemara or a Tosfos without in some way connecting with Hashem. Torah lishma means there is no higher goal which is the purpose or aim or Torah study; Torah is synonomous with Hashem and is therefore the supreme religious value which justifies all else.

The Ba'al Shem and chassidus take a different view of things. Torah lishma in the Besht"s thinking means Torah study for the sake of dveykus; Torah is itself a mean to religious attachment to G-d, which is the supreme value (see Tzava'as haRiv"ash #30, esp. the shinuy nuschaus, which indicates that were it possible to achieve complete dveykus learning might no longer even be necessary!) Since it is hard to focus on contemplation of G-d while studying a Tosfos, one should take periodoc breaks while learning to refocus on the ultimate goal of dveykus.

The Midrash on our parsha which R' Chaim Volozhiner used as his prooftext has an interesting ending. The Midrash concludes with an exhortation by Hashem to build a Mishkan for his presence, which comes to us with the Torah. R' Tzadok (Pri Tzadik, Terumah 1) notes the seeming contradiction: on the one hand, Hashem is immanent in the Torah; on the other hand, Hashem asks us to build a Mishkan for his presence, implying that he resides outside the bounds of the Torah itself. It seems to me that the ambiguity of the Midrash captures the tension between the divergent views of R' Chaim and the Besh"T. The relationship between Mishkan, the symbol of dveykus, and Torah, intellectual study, is not clearly spelled out by the Midrash, and is left for us to puzzle over.


  1. RCB, You might prefer linking Nefesh haChaim 4:10 to , which has the advantage of being in HTML and cut-n-pastable.

    And of not, perhaps knowing there are a number of sefarim at that you can cut-n-paste into posts might be of assitance.


  2. Thanks - fixed the link.

  3. Noch Ainer7:13 PM

    I believe this shtikel from the Maharal in his hakdome to Tiferes Yisroel comes down on the side of the Ba'al Shem:

    ועוד, כי התלמיד חכם, לבו דבק אל התורה כי חביבה התורה על לומדיה, ובשביל אהבתם לתורה, דבר זה מסלק אהבת המקום בשעה זאת שבאים ללמוד, כי כאשר באים ללמוד תורה ואהבתם אל התורה, אין בלימוד שלהם האהבה אל השם יתברך במה שנתן תורה. כי אין האהבה לשנים, כי כל אהבה היא דבקות בנאהב, ואם דבק בזה אינו דבק באחר. ולפיכך אהבת התורה שהיא חביבה עליהם, דבר זה מסלק שאין הברכה בכל לבו אל השי"ת במה שנתן התורה.

  4. That's where he talks about "al mah avdah ha'aretz" and birchas haTorah, right? Good catch -- I was so locked into thinking about Nefesh haChaim and the Besh"T that I forgot the maharal.

  5. Noch Ainer7:19 PM

    Yes, correct. Do we find this idea anywhere before the Maharal?

  6. >> R' Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh haChaim 4:10) explains that it makes no sense to speak of dveykus as a goal of the process of Torah learning

    It is impossible that Reb Chaim would argue on this, see for example:

    לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה אֱלֹ-ֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ וּלְדָבְקָה-בוֹ

    Reb Chaim does not say that devekus in Torah is a means to an end, rather the way to reach devekus in Hashem is by being mechaven to be misdabek in dvar Hashem zu halacha.

    See שער ד פרק ו -
    ויכוין להתדבק בלימודו בו בתורה בו בהקב"ה. היינו להתדבק בכל כחותיו לדבר ה' זו הלכה. ובזה הוא דבוק בו ית' ממש כביכול

    pc :-)

  7. The pasuk refers to ahavas Hashem, not learning. And the very quote you cite from Nefesh haChaim underscores my point. Dvar Hashem = zu halacha. Dveikus and learning are tautologically intertwined; it is not a means/end relationship. Speaking of learning as a means to dveikus would be like speaking of a circle as a means to achieve roundness -- roundness is the definition of a circle, not its goal.
    The Besh"T sees them as seperate ideas, the proof being that you can achieve dveikus w/o learning.

    N.A. - I have to think about it and I have a cold, so my brain is not working well.

  8. The Mesillas Yesharim (hakdama) and Sefer haChinuch (first mitzva in Teruma) understand that these pessukim in Devarim are kllalim. They are guidelines that describe the purpose of the entire Torah.

    As the mishna says, rotzo hakodosh boruch hu lezakos es yisroel lefikicoch hirbe lahem torah umitzvos - this is clear that the Torah and Mitzvos are not an end to themselves but are a means to an end.

    pc :-)

  9. If they are klalim, so what? The question is what's the klal. A statement like "ratzah l'zakos" cna be interpreted in so many ways that it has no bearing here.

  10. The machlokess does not relate to the transalation of these pessukim. Our relationship to Hashem is personal - it is not limited to hasogos that we have in Torah.

    The machlokes relates specifically to limud Torah - if lishmah means le'shem ha'torah or if lishmah means le'shem shamayim.

    pc :-)